To be great is to go on / To go on is to be far / To be far is to return.
My favorite episode of Stranger Things is the most criticized of the entire series. It’s not on purpose. I’m not trying to be contrarian. If anything, I believe “The Lost Sister” should be one of the most beloved episodes of the show. Let me explain why S2E7 was a necessary detour.
The Duffer Brothers wasted no time in expanding the world of Stranger Things with the opening of Season 2. In Episode 1, “MADMAX,” we find ourselves in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A group of youths robs a bank, one of whom has powers, not unlike those of Eleven. By the opening sequence’s end, we see this young woman with a tattoo on her arm as well, but hers is “008.” It won’t be until Episode 7 that we return to this world.
The two most common complaints regarding “The Lost Sister” seem to be:
1) Given the lack of any other series regulars other than Eleven, the episode doesn’t change much of the season’s or series’ narrative. If anything, it acts like a backdoor pilot for a Stranger Things spin-off starring Eight (“Kali”) and her gang. If the Duffers were to remove the episode entirely, we wouldn’t miss much.
2) If you appreciate the character development the episode presents, the placement of the episode doesn’t work. Episode 6 ends with a cliffhanger, and “The Lost Sister” just gets in the way of the season’s flow at that point. Fair enough. Perhaps placing it after “The Mind Flayer” could’ve worked. At the end of that episode, Eleven returns to Hawkins, and flashing back to her personal journey in “The Lost Sister” could’ve been an interesting set-up to the Season 2 finale.
Personally, number 2, I understand. I actually like the aesthetics of this episode, and at the same time, given the binge-able nature of the show, a break in the narrative works fine for me. I don’t have an issue with that, but I understand the issue people have with it. Everyone has different tastes. It’s number 1 that I disagree with. Season 2 of Stranger Things needed this episode because as I alluded to earlier, we need the character development “The Lost Sister” gives us.
Without the events in Episode 7, I wouldn’t buy Eleven’s determination and willingness to be open with those closest to her when she returns to Hawkins to essentially save the day. I mean, I do to a certain extent because she’s ultimately a good person and a hero who is willing to sacrifice herself. At the same time, without “The Lost Sister,” it would’ve felt less earned and more like paint-by-the-numbers storytelling.
So, what is it about Episode 7 of Season 2 that allows Eleven’s return and manner to feel so “earned”? It’s simple. Eleven leaves Hawkins to find herself, and once she does so, she returns. It’s not quite the Hero’s Journey, but it accomplishes the same thing: leaving home one thing and returning another.
Eleven leaves Hawkins because she seems to believe that Hopper is just some man who took her in out of obligation and that her friends have moved on since her disappearance at the end of Season 1. Given everything we’ve learned since Season 2, I understand Eleven’s feelings even more than I did then, but I did understand then. I understood that Eleven was a genuine loner who opened up just enough to let Mike and his friends in. When Hopper enters into her life, she feels she can trust him, too, and when he gives her shelter and a relative homelife, she seems grateful enough.
That said, she’s human, and more than that, she’s coming into her own as an adolescent. She understands why she must stay away from the outside world, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t long to be a part of it. When she leaves, I fully understand why she had to, and I fully understand that the first place she goes is to her mother.
Hopper withholding information on Eleven’s mother is both understandable and unforgivable. It makes complete sense why he wouldn’t just sit Eleven down and explain everything he knows to her. Yes, she would know the truth, but what would that ultimately accomplish? The possibility of Eleven being broken over knowledge of not only her mother but also of what her mother went through seems reasonable to me.
That, of course, suggests that Eleven, even at her age in Season 2, wouldn’t be able to cope with such revelations. After all, she trusts Hopper and more than likely feels safe with him. Sure, she’d probably run off to her room, slamming her door with the flick of her wrist, with Hopper right behind, calling out for her. But she’d be okay. They’d be okay.
Sometimes, though, people make mistakes. Hopper withholding that information was a mistake, but it did result in getting Eleven to grow as a person. I mean, let’s say everything in that previous paragraph happened. Eleven eventually opens the door and they have a heart-to-heart. What then? Does she stay in the cabin, hiding out from the world? Maybe, but I have to believe she’d end up back in the same headspace of wanting to get out and at the very least see Mike and her mother.
I would imagine that roughly the same thing would’ve eventually happened. Eleven runs away, and her first stop is her mother. The differences are key, though. In the alternate scenario, Eleven is simply leaving to leave. She would visit her mother just to visit her. In the way things actually played out, Eleven left because she believed she had no one to back her up.
If Eleven had left simply to leave, that means she would’ve gone to see Kali simply to meet her old friend, nothing more. Because she does leave the way she does in the show, her going to see Kali means more. It means that Eleven is reaching out to someone who seems to truly understand her. Perhaps Kali is the person she should be close with, not a non-dad who lies to her or so-called friends who have clearly moved on with the cool red-haired skater girl.
It is important that Eleven leave Hawkins believing she has no one because when she returns, she knows that she does. Or, at the very least, she returns with the hope that she does.
When Eleven goes to see her mother, she finds that she’s being cared for by Eleven’s aunt, Becky. Though Becky ends up calling the police on Eleven, she is able to meet her catatonic mother, and more specifically, they’re able to connect through Eleven’s mental void. There, Eleven witnesses three memories involving her mother, Terry.
In the first, Terry gives birth to Eleven, who is quickly taken from her. In the second, Terry breaks into the Hawkins lab with a gun in an effort to get her daughter back. And, in the third memory, Dr. Brenner (or “Papa”) gives orders to have Terry hit with electrical shocks, which ultimately caused her brain damage.
This, of course, breaks Eleven’s heart (and mine as well), but she’s able to gather information on a friend she once had at the lab, and after attempting to locate her in Eleven’s mental void, she goes in search of this girl, Kali.
One of the things that kind of bums me out about this part in Eleven’s journey is how she finds herself under the same roof as her mother and aunt, and yet there’s no connection. Becky doesn’t know who the heck this girl is (maybe?), and Terry can’t do or say anything. Eleven walking away from these two is key, though, because she’ll come to find that she does have a family. They’re just waiting back in Hawkins for her.
Once Eleven meets up with Kali in Pittsburgh, they become fast friends once again, with Kali updating Eleven’s look, bringing her into her gang, and even teaching her the word “bitchin’.” Ultimately, though, Eleven just can’t fully connect with Kali’s lifestyle. This is not to suggest that Kali is necessarily “bad,” but Eleven, who has done some bad things herself, has reservations about what Kali and her group do, like robbery and later attempted murder.
It’s also important to note that Eleven tries going by her birth name, “Jane,” when she introduces herself. She’s Elle to the people back home, and Eleven was just the number she happened to be assigned when she arrived at Hawkins lab. Jane, theoretically, should’ve been the true her, but it mostly was just as pretend as her ’80s-cliched punk makeover. Jane is not who Eleven is or was, and no matter how hard she tried in “The Lost Sister,” she just couldn’t make it work. Add in the very real danger her friends and family were in, and she knew she couldn’t stay.
Kali may have been the one person on the planet who could understand and empathize with Eleven, given their backgrounds and their abilities. However, the two find they have very different lives, and even if Kali was a close friend, best friend, or sister to Eleven, that was a long time ago.
Now, I recognize that I’m talking about young people here, but a few years is a lot of time, even for an adult like me. A lot can happen within five years, and during adolescence, that’s doubled (at the very least). As they grow older, it’s possible that the two can find one another again, but at the end of the episode, it’s clear that Eleven’s adventure is over.
She left home to find family. When she couldn’t do that, she went to find friends. When that didn’t pan out, she understood the truth that was always there. Mike, Hopper, Joyce, Dustin, and even Lucas cared about her. Little did she know that Will and Max would become very close to her, as well. Sometimes, we really don’t see what’s right in front of us.
That might be because of how selfish we can be, and yeah, Eleven is pretty selfish in Season 2. Maybe that sounds outrageous, but hear me out. In Season 1, Eleven was taken in by Mike, who helped her out as best he could. With Dustin and Lucas, a whole friend group was established, and Eleven learned she could have real connections with others. At the start of Season 2, we learn just how Hopper took Eleven in and cared for her, and just how they were able to bond. Whether Eleven’s cabin fever is understandable or not is beside the point because her selfishness in wanting to leave not only concerns her own safety. It concerns others.
Would Mike love to know that the girl he’s fallen for is alive and well? Yes, he would. Would everyone else want to know? Of course. But there’s a very real possibility that Eleven returning to the world could bring dangers to the town of Hawkins, and therefore those for whom she cares.
She’s able to see how understandable selfish looks when she sees Kali and her friends in action. And even though they took her in, she can never fully bond with them. They aren’t who she wants to be. They aren’t her friends and family back home. Yes, she returns to Hawkins when she sees that they’re in danger, but more importantly, though, she’s grown as a person.
When she’s on that bus at the end of Episode 7, and she’s asked by that woman where she’s headed, it’s no surprise that Eleven says:
I’m going to my friends. Going home.
She understands who her friends are now, and though she doesn’t say it, I believe she understands who her family is as well. Eleven left her home in search of something, but as it turned out, she didn’t have to leave home. It was always there. The thing is, she wouldn’t have recognized it if she hadn’t left.
I accept that my taste will often times conflict with another person’s, but the sets, music, makeup, and costumes in this episode aren’t the important stuff. If you dislike or even hate that stuff, fair enough. As always, Millie Bobby Brown is so good in it, as is Linnea Berthelsen as Kali.
Regardless, aesthetics of the episode aside, “The Lost Sister” was a necessary detour in Season 2’s narrative. Without it, I wouldn’t buy Eleven’s resolve not just to save her friends and family but her commitment to them, as well as who she is because even though we’re always changing, when she returns the Hawkins, Eleven knows exactly who she is. And, yeah, I believe it.